Thursday, September 30, 2010

The buzz about Insects in the Backyard

Making its world premiere at the Vancouver International Film Festival next week is Insects in the Backyard, the debut feature by up-and-coming director Tanwarin Sukkhapisit (ธัญญ์วาริน สุขพิสิษ).

It's in the Dragons & Tigers competition for the $10,000 Dragons & Tigers Award for Young CinemaAward for Young Cinema. Here's programmer Tony Rayns' synopsis from the VIFF website:

In the absence of their parents, Johnny (15) and Jennifer (17) are being brought up by their "big sister" Tanya, an overdressed transvestite who eats and smokes too much and causes both kids endless embarrassment. It's a situation ripe for problems (actually, more complicated than I've made it sound), and Tanwarin's debut feature - as director, writer and star – explores those problems with unbridled determination. Both kids mess up their pursuit of romance, in the ways that teenagers do, and both look for ways to break away from the family home and become independent. For Johnny, this entails going into male prostitution, which is as much an attempt to erase his own self-esteem as a way of earning some fast bucks. Jenny makes other mistakes, but both of them wind up deeply dissatisfied. And Tanya? When Johnny catches her trying to seduce one of his buddies, things start to go downhill for her too. Tanwarin (a language major from Khon Kaen University who has acted in 13 self-directed short films since 2001) finds the roots of family dysfunction in Thai attitudes to sexuality and prostitution, but his sense of framing, colour and pace gives the film larger resonances. Universal ones, in fact.

Tanwarin also gave a phone interview to Vancouver's, saying she aims to expose Thai taboos:

She emphasized that the characters don’t represent the norm; she wanted to show what is hidden in the Southeast Asian country, including homosexuality. “The characters in this film is not like the culture. They’re different, but they’re real. I want everybody to understand that.” She added that the title reflects that fact. “You know…the back yard has many, many insects. But nobody can see them. Like Thailand.”

A katoey filmmaker, Tanwarin is well known and respected in Thailand's indie scene, as well as in the industry, where she's worked as an acting coach and even directed a segment for Poj Arnon's horror anthology, Tai Hong (ตายโหง, Die a Violent Death, also known as Still). Her shorts include In the Name of Sin, Phone Mood, I'm Fine Sa-bai-dee Ka and Where's My Doll?

Other Thai films in Vancouver are the musical documentary Baby Arabia by Panu Aree, Kaweenipon Ketprasit and Kong Rithdee and Mundane History by Anocha Suwichakornpong as well as a batch of films by Apichatpong Weearasethakul, including the Oscar hopeful Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives and the shorts A Letter to Uncle Boonmee, Anthem and Luminous People plus Anocha's Elvis short Graceland and Aditya Assarat's Phuket (which has just opened in Bangkok).

The Vancouver International Film Festival runs from September 30 to October 15.

Apichatpong-a-rama: Monkeying around in New York

Following last weekend's screenings of Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives at the New York Film Festival, director Apichatpong Weerasethakul was the toast of the town.

Appropriately for a movie that features a monkey ghost, a private dinner was hosted at Manhattan's Monkey Bar.

The evening was hosted by longtime fans Francesco Vezzoli, artist Rirkrit Tiravanija, Black Frame’s Brian Phillips, designer-lawyer Chomwan Weeraworawit and Tilda Swinton and Marc Jacobs (neither of whom attended but attached their names because they wanted to support "Joe").

Apichatpong said that he was wearing a suit by Jacobs, though they've never met. "I think he gave it to me," he's quoted as saying by The Wall Street Journal. "I don't know him, but somehow he chipped in for the party. He loves what I do."

He's also never met Swinton, but they have been in correspondence by e-mail and plan to meet in London when Uncle Boonmee plays the October 13-28 London Film Festival (tickets for which reportedly sold out in one hour). "We e-mail," he tells WSJ. "She wrote, 'Let's make a film for children together.' I said, 'I cannot make a children's movie. I feel like making a scary movie.' She said, 'Okay, I'll do whatever.'"

Big names in attendance included former Talking Head David Byrne, actress Greta Gerwig, filmmaker John Cameron Mitchell and Diana Picasso, granddaughter of Pablo.

There's more coverage of Apichatpong's night at the Monkey Bar, and pix by Patrick McMullan.

At the NYFF, Apichatpong sat for an interview with Peter LaBuza, and explains some of the symbolism behind the monkey ghosts in Boonmee admits the reluctant monk at the end of the movie had a deeper meaning.

Apichatpong gave another interview to Interview Magazine, in which he talks about his background as an architecture student and how that manifests itself in his films. "Buildings are designed as a journey and films are the same," he says. "You have an opening that you come through, an angle you follow, maybe a disruption in space."

The New York Film Festival has also been the garden for a fresh crop of reviews of Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.

Tom Hall at IndieWire's Back Row Manifesto:

What to make of the dissonance within me that deplores the irrational in my real life and deeply embraces it in cinema? Perhaps I allow films to tear open a part of me that I otherwise suppress, or maybe there is something about the nature of sitting in the dark that allows me to recognize the poetry of certain fictions without feeling threatened by what my acquiescence might mean in the workings of the world. Every time I confront a film by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, I face this dilemma; give myself over to his dream world, safe in the knowledge that by doing so, my local school board won’t suddenly be populated by people rallying for the inclusion of tiger boyfriends and monkey ghosts into the science curriculum or resist the considerable charm of the many inducements into Weerasethakul’s universe, instead using my rational mind to combat the seductive power of his narratives, scene by scene, shot by shot. Often, I find myself doing both, pushing and pulling myself away from the films like a turned on lover who can’t make up his mind, before I ultimately surrender to their gentle touch and fall head over heels into the milky reality that Weerasethakul creates. I just can’t help myself, I guess. For me, it seems, that’s what film is for.

David Ehrlich at's Cinematical blog:

I never expected Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul to become this popular. For one, his name is Apichatpong Weerasethakul (but he insists you call him "Joe"). Moreover, his films are gauzy reveries of a deceptively inaccessible variety – from the exquisite corpse of Mysterious Object at Noon to the tender queer romance of his bifurcated masterpiece Tropical Malady, Joe's films are all fractured abstractions of what it feels like to be alive on this earth, and how slippery that feeling can be. His non-linear stories are gleefully surprising and often very romantic, but they can feel as impenetrable as listening to a stranger share a dream about their friends, and ever since Joe dramatically ended his working relationship with Shia Labeouf his commercial prospects have looked rather dim (note: Joe has never actually worked with Shia Labeouf, but now that I've planted the seed I'm sure Shia's agent can hardly think about anything else).

Raffi Asdourian at The Film Stage:

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is one of the coolest titles to come in a long time. This critically acclaimed entry from the often overlooked Thailand cinema scene is the latest from up and coming auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul who won the Palme D’Or aka the highest honor earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festvial. It is film filled with mystery and beauty, touching on a myriad of themes ranging from reincarnation to animals entwined with spiritual mythology among others. However despite it’s ambitious scope in terms of thematic expression, Uncle Boonmee can often times feel painfully slow and extremely random with very little explanation offered besides your own interpretation filling in the gaps.

And finally, there's film scholar Michael J. Anderson at his Tativille blog, which is impossible to excerpt. Just go read it.

Film Archive remembers Mitr 40 years later

This is the year of The Red Eagle.

Wisit Sasanatieng's new version of the Thai action franchise of the 1950s and '60s will be released in Thai cinemas next Thursday, October 7.

That's one day before the 40th anniversary of the death of the original Insee Daeng, superstar actor Mitr Chaibancha, who died on October 8, 1970, in an accident while filming Golden Eagle (Insee Tong, อินทรีทอง).

Each year around this time, the Thai Film Archive remembers Mitr with film screenings and other activities at the Sri Salaya Theater and Thai Film Museum in Salaya, Nakhon Pathom, and this year is a bit more special because of the 40th anniversary and because of the new Red Eagle.

The activities start on Friday, October 1, with a screening of Golden Eagle, which closes with Mitr's fatal helicopter stunt, filmed near Jomtien Beach, Pattaya.

Other Mitr movies screening are 1967's Jet Phra Karn (7 พระกาฬ), directed by Charlie Intaravichet and also starring Adul Dulyarat and Ruj Ronapop; Atsawin Daap Gaaiyasit (อัศวินดาบกายสิทธิ์), a 1970 martial-arts fantasy that was a Hong Kong co-production; 1966's Diamond Cuts Diamond (Pet Dtat Pet, เพชรตัดเพชร); 1970's Jom Joh Rom Hay (จ้าวอินทรี); and 1968's Jao Insee (จ้าวอินทรี ).

On October 8, the archive will screen last year's award-winning romance October Sonata (Ruk Tee Ror Koi, รักที่รอคอย) a period drama that has lovers fatefully meeting in Pattaya on October 8, 1970 – at the funeral of Mitr Chaibancha.

And on Saturday, October 9, there will be a talk and exhibition about Mitr at the Sri Salaya Theatre.

The rest of October, the Film Archive's screenings and activities consist of other recent Thai films that are set during the politically turbulent Octobers of the 1970s. These include October Sonata, Blue Sky of Love (Fah Sai Huajai Chuenbaab, ฟ้าใสใจชื่นบาน), Haunted Universities (Maha'lai Sayong Kwan, มหา’ลัย สยองขวัญ), Meat Grinder (Cheuat Gon Chim, เชือด ก่อน ชิม) and Bhandit Rittikol's The Moonhunter (14 tula, songkram prachachon, 14 ตุลา สงครามประชาชน, literally "14 October: war of the people"), as well as other social-message movies, such as MC Chatrichalerm Yukol's Hotel Angel, Sunset at Chao Phraya 2 and the banned 1977 docu-drama Tongpan (ทองปาน).

Showtimes are at 5.30 on weekdays (except Wednesdays) and 1pm on Saturday and Sunday. Please see the Film Archive website for the schedule. English subtitles aren't typically available, but if it matters to you, call ahead before visiting to verify.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

NETPAC celebrates 20 years in New Delhi and Bangkok

Lekha Shankar has been programming the NETPAC-FCCT Asian Film Festival, a six-film series that has been running at Bangkok's Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand since July. The series closes on Thursday night with a screening of Sell Out!, with director Yeo Joon Han and NETPAC founder and president Aruna Vasudev in attendance. Lekha also attended the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema's 20th-anniversary Imaging Asia conference in New Delhi from August 19 to 22, where Uruphong Raksasad's Agrarian Utopia and Nonzee Nimibutr's ghost romance Nang Nak were screened. To tell us all about these things, she sent this report.

Story and photos by Lekha J Shankar

The NETPAC-FCCT Asian Film Festival concludes at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand Thursday, September 30, with the much-lauded comedy from Malaysia Sell Out!, the debut feature of indie director Yeo Joon Han, which won a special mention at the Venice film festival in 2008.

The riotous film pokes fun at every institution, from media sensationalism to individual creativity to corporate greed, and strikes a chord in every city, including Bangkok.

Han, who will be attending the screening, loves everything about Bangkok, from its Mama noodles to its post-productions studios, both of which he uses to the hilt. Han attended 2008's World Film Festival of Bangkok, where Sell Out! was screened.

The director, whose short Adults Only also won a special mention at Venice, has just completed his second feature, and confessed he was quite "broke".

Which was why he was very grateful to Air Asia for offering him a complimentary ticket to attend the film screening at FCCT.

The dynamic, articulate director will do a Q&A after the film screening.

Also present for the screening and Q&A will be the founder and president of NETPAC, Dr Aruna Vasudev, who is specially flying down for the occasion, on her way back from the Focus on Asia Fukuoka International Film Festival, which had a special section on the NETPAC award-winning films from Japan. (Two Thai films, Anocha Suwichakornpong's Mundane History and Somkiet Vituranich's October Sonata were in the festival's official selection.)

Aruna recently master-minded a mega film event in New Delhi, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema with a three-day conference, Imaging Asia – the Culture & Politics of Asian Cinema.

Held from August 19 to 22, the conference was attended by more than 60 eminent film professionals from Europe, Asia and the US. These included festival programmers from Cannes, Rotterdam, Munich and Pusan, "Asia-centric" festivals like Vesoul in France, "new: festivals like Granada, Abu Dhabi and Kazaksthan, as well as film-funding agencies like Rotterdam's Hubert Bals Fund and CNC from France, in addition to film experts and academics.

Nonzee Nimibutr represented Thailand, and spoke about the importance of the funding projects in Asian festivals like Tokyo, Hong Kong and Pusan (where he received a grant for Queens of Langkasuka.

Meanwhile Kim Dong-Ho, director of the Pusan International Film Festival and a member of the Netpac board, said this year’s Pusan festival would screen
15 NETPAC award-winning films to celebrate 15 years of the festival and 20 years of Netpac,

Kim, who is retiring this year after an amazing, 15-year success story with the Pusan festival, where he raised the beach town from a "cultural wasteland" to the most important film festival venue in Asia, said he was proud of the many "New Asian talents" that the festival had discovered through the Pusan Promotion Fund, the Asian Cinema Fund and the Asian Film Academy.

He mentioned Thai director Aditya Assarat, whose debut feature Wonderful Town had won a grant from Pusan, followed by the first of many international awards.

Aditya will screen two films at Pusan this year, his sophomore feature Hi-So and Eternity, directed by Sivaroj Kongsakul and produced by Aditya's Pop Pictures.

Cannes-winner Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s name came up a lot at the NETPAC Conference, especially from representatives of the Hubert Bals Fund and CNS, since they had both contributed funds for his award-winning Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.

Both the organizations said they were looking forward to supporting many new indie directors of Thailand.

Meanwhile, Nonzee screened his NETPAC award-winner Nang Nak to a rapt New Delhi audience, who asked him many questions about the story, technique and symbolism of the film.

The film was also screened at the FCCT as part of the NETPAC festival, where again, it had a large expat audience totally moved and fascinated by the famous Thai ghost story.

The NETPAC conference in New Delhi was supported by vibrant art exhibitions, film screenings and puppets shows. The latter included the well-known Nang Thalung shadow puppet group of Acharn Suchart Subsin from Thailand.

While the Conference’s opening was addressed by Ms. Latha Reddy, former ambassador to Thailand and presently secretary of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, its conclusion was marked by an exclusive film tour of two cities, organised by the same ministry, for an international media team.

These included tour of the spectacular Ramoji Studios in the silicon city of Hyderabad, considered one of the biggest in the world. Media baron Ramoji Rao stated that unlike the Thai Film Office, they did not need to "seek or accept government help". Nor did they need to look for foreign production units, as they could sustain themselves totally by the numerous films being made in the country.

The second stop was the Whistling Woods International Film Academy in the Bollywood city of Mumbai, which boasted of superior equipment, facilities and teaching personnel, run by Bollywood mogul Subhash Ghai. He stated that they had students from many countries and would welcome any from Thailand.

While the major achievement of NETPAC has been to introduce Asian cinema to the whole world, its minor achievement – as the recent Netpac Conference event proved – has been to introduce the Asian countries to each other.

Saturday Killer in theaters on Thursday

Back in June, director Yuthlert Sippapak premiered a rough cut of his Friday Killer (Meu Puen Dao Prasook, มือปืน ดาวพระศุกร์) as the closing film of the Phuket Film Festival.

The hitman thriller featuring a solidly dramatic performance by comedian Thep Po-ngam with actresses Ploy Jindachote and Apinya Sakuljaroensuk was intended as the first in a trilogy of hitman tales, the Meu Puen 3 Pak (มือปืนตรัยภาค). The series marks a return to the hitman genre by Yuthlert, who made his debut with 1999's Killer Tattoo.

Friday Killer even won the Phuket festival's top prize, the International Break-Out Award, with the prediction that the prolific genre-hopping director will have "great success with his trilogy of hitman films but will go on to break-out of directing domestic Thai films and pick-up a wider regional and international audience."

But Yuthlert's producers at Phranakorn Film balked at the serious tone of Friday Killer and went for the second entry, Saturday Killer as the first release, and it's Saturday Killer (Meu Puen Dao Pra Sao มือปืน /ดาว /พระ /เสาร์, literally "Saturn killer") that's in Thai cinemas on Thursday.

All the Killer films team up well-known comedians with hot actresses.

Starring Choosak "Nong Cha Cha Cha" Iamsuk and Bangkok Traffic Love Story leading lady Cris Horwang, Saturday Killer is a rifle-toting romantic comedy. Nong portrays a gunman named Tee Rifle, who takes hitman jobs in order to earn cash to cure his impotence. He falls the high-flying gunwoman Chris Styler. She's going to break his heart and perhaps do more damage.

Both have worked with Yuthlert before, with Nong playing the dramatic lead in what's probably my favorite Yuthlert film, Pattaya Maniac (Sai Lor Fah), and Cris had a supporting role in the "Nose" Udom Taepanich comedy E-Tim Tay Nai.

Like Friday Killer, Saturday Killer also looks to comment on Thai politics, which is a sensitive topic. But there's also plenty of cheeky humor, mainly at Nong's character's expense.

Characters from the forthcoming second entry in the Killer trilogy, Sunday Killer, also appear, with Kohtee Aramboy and "May" Pichanart Sakakorn getting in on the shoot-'em-up action.

There's a trailer at YouTube (embedded below) as well as a music video.

There's still hope that Friday Killer will be released sometime next year.

(Poster via

Monday, September 27, 2010

Director's Screen and Phuket head for CentralWorld

Extra Virgin's Director's Screen Project has a change of program and a change of venue this week.

A collection of three shorts by Wonderful Town director Aditya AssaratPhuket, Boy Genius and The Sigh – closes the current leg of the screening series, which moves to the SF World Cinema at CentralWorld.

Initiated at SFW CentralWorld in 2008, the Director's Screen Project was relaunched this past August, with Anocha Suwichakornpong's Mundane History and Uruphong Raksasad's Agrarian Utopia each having one-month theatrical runs at SFX the Emporium.

Now the Director's Screen moves back to CentralWorld. The shopping center has been closed since the April-May "red-shirt" anti-government protests at the Rajprasong intersection. The protests ended on May 19 with a flurry of arson attacks in retaliation for the government's use of military force to stop the protests. Part of CentralWorld was destroyed by fire, and it's taken months to get the mall ready for its reopening.

Commissioned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and tourism concerns, Phuket stars South Korean actress Lim Su-jeong as a famous Korean actress named Jin who is trying to take a vacation in Phuket, but is harried by phone calls and fans. She finds solace in a friendship with her hotel limo driver, played National Artist actor Sorapong Chatree, who shows her the traditional side of the resort island's culture.

Phuket premiered at last year's Pusan International Film Festival and was in competition at the Clermont-Ferrand festival earlier this year. It was the opening film of last month's 14th Thai Short Film & Video Festival, and is also playing in this week's Vancouver International Film Festival.

It's playing with two other shorts by Aditya, Boy Genius and The Sigh. From 2004, Boy Genius is about a young filmmaker trying to make a movie but his girlfriend keeps getting in the way. It's the first part of a trilogy that's followed by 2005's The Sigh, in which a soundman making a recording in an abandoned building discovers a mysterious woman’s sigh on the tape. He then tries to find the woman.

Meanwhile, more Aditya is on the way, with his new feature Hi-So premiering at the Pusan International Film Festival alongside Eternity (ที่รัก, Tee Rak), a New Currents-competition drama from young director Sivaroj Kongsakul and produced by Aditya's Pop Pictures.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Apichatpong-a-rama: Headlines in Toronto, New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong and beyond; a trailer for Viennale

Apichatpong Weerasethakul made an appearance at the recently wrapped-up Toronto International Film Festival, where his film Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives was in the Masters program and the filmmaker took part TIFF's Mavericks.

You can watch excerpts from Apichatpong's Mavericks interview with Dennis Lim on YouTube, in which the filmmaker charms the audience and provoked laughter with his warm, witty and weird sense of humor.

Apichatpong explained his love for hospitals (he says one in Toronto is so beautiful it made him wish he was sick), talked a bit about his grand plans for his ambitious science-fiction project Utopia and revealed a possible DVD extra for Uncle Boonmee that involves the Catfish Princess and her pregnancy worries.

Uncle Boonmee has now begun a regular theatrical run at TIFF's new permanent home, the Bell Lightbox, a place that had film critic Roger Ebert reflecting, "A guy like me, I can see retiring to a condo in the TIFF Bell Lightbox and just going to movies."

There's loads of coverage of Uncle Boonmee in Toronto's media: Eye Weekly, the Globe and Mail, Now Toronto, Metro News, The Star and The Sun.

There's an interview in The Sun and a particularly good one at at CTV, in which he talks about "karma, conflict and good intentions":

But there's enough room left in their brief exchange for doubt. Is it really alright? Is it false hope that the forces of karma considered their intention when they took a sentient being's life, whether insect, animal, or communist? Joe says it's a conflict deeply embedded in the consciousness of Thailand, where Buddhist principles are steeped since birth.

Joe talks of other Buddhist and Thai beliefs he struggles with. "For example, in Thailand and other parts of Asia, the feet are considered the lowest part of the body, physically and spiritually. The head is the most highly-respected part. So if I point my feet at you, it's considered very rude," he said.

"I cannot shed this idea, even though I know it's nonsense," he added.

His feet were pointed toward the wall; mine were aimed directly at him like a pair of daggers. I shifted them to the left, away from Joe, even though I also knew it was nonsense.

"It's so ingrained in my behaviour and the fact that it makes me feel guilty if I do it," said Joe, giving a small example of the struggle that many Thais feel, whether after using their feet to point or coming to terms with the violence in their history.

"This type of struggle reflects a difficult situation in the‘70s because during that time, with the student uprisings, there were a lot of killings and many people struggled with the concept of ‘killing communists is not the same.'"

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives has meanwhile moved on. It's playing this weekend at the 48th New York Film Festival, where it makes the short list in The Wall Street Journal as well as Capital New York. There's a recent review at Labuza Movies and at This Week in New York.

On his blog Some Came Running, critic Glenn Kenny offers Some brief notes toward constructing a user's manual for Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. He starts out saying:

A couple of night before the New York Film Festival press screening of this picture, I was trying to prep a friend who would also be attending, and whose first Apichatong Weerasethakul this was to be. Bearing my impressions of Weerasethakul's great, but resistant-to-standard-film-critical-thought-and-vocabulary prior feature Syndromes and a Century in mind, I advised her: "Okay, so dip into a little early to middle-period John Ashbery. Then subtract the self-conscious intellectualism. Then add Thailand. Then drop the resting heart rate. Then, think film.Then subtract linearity, again." After the screening, my friend told me that, despite this picture being more linear than expected, my prep work had in fact been useful, and that the film was even greater than that!

A couple other observations by Kenny: "It's not really all about the talking catfish" and "Yes, the monkey-man suit is below 2001: A Space Odyssey par. I believe that's deliberate."

It is.

Savvy New Yorkers could have further prepped for Past Lives by catching the prequel of sorts, A Letter to Uncle Boonmee, which was playing at the Museum of Modern Art as part of MoMA's ContemporAsian film series alongside three other Asian shorts: Madam Butterfly by Tsai Ming Liang, Cry Me a River by Jia Zhang-ke and Lost in the Mountains by Hong Sang-soo. I was there, and what a cool experience it was to see this oddball collection of shorts with a New York audience.

Past Lives has many other film festival appearances lined up, including London and Sitges, where it's among the gala screenings.

Closer to home, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is among the selection of the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival (October 22 to November 8) and it's the gala opener of Tokyo Filmex (November 20-28), where Apichatpong is serving on the jury of Tokyo Filmex's first competition program.

Finally, Apichatpong has moved on from Uncle Boonmee, sort of. He was commissioned to make the one-minute trailer that's become a tradition of the Vienna International Film Festival. Veering towards science fiction, the clip also visits a cave, a place that I'm pretty sure was also used in Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. You can watch it at the Viennale website and it's also been uploaded to YouTube.

Oh, have you ever wanted to hear how Apichatpong Weerasethakul's (อภิชาติพงศ์ วีระเศรษฐกุล) name is pronounced? Although his Thai friends call him Joei and he encourages Westerners to just call him "Joe", it's really not all that difficult. You can listen at Forvo and even download an MP3 soundbyte.

(Thanks for contributions from Jim Emerson, Film Business Asia, Love HK Film, The Daily MUBI and Animate Projects)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Red Eagle is Wisit's farewell to the film industry

Fueled by huge expectations and fanboy anticipation, Wisit Sasanatieng's The Red Eagle (Insee Daeng, อินทรีเเดง) has become one of the year's most wildly hyped Thai movies, with huge billboards all around Bangkok and all kinds of other advertising, stunts and campaigns.

But will Red Eagle live up to the high-flying, CGI-assisted superhero hype?

That's the question that must be weighing heavily on Wisit as word has leaked out that he's leaving the film industry once Red Eagle is released on October 7.

News of Wisit's departure from the industry has apparently been whispered in the Thai media, and Twitch mentioned it on Twitter last week.

The Nation's Soopsip gossip column picked up on it today, citing a "mysterious source" that the director is "quite serious" about the move and that he has been "telling close friends and colleagues that he’s fed up making mainstream drivel for the studios."

Wisit confirms the news in a response to an e-mail:

I have decided to quit my director role and do something else instead.

I am too tired and don't want do studio feature films anymore.

But if someday I come back to direct a film again, that means I have found a story that I really want to tell, but in my own style and in the independent way, not with the studio.

Maybe I will do a comic book. That's something I've planned to do for a long, long time.

But actually, I have not made my decision on what I will do next.

After I've finished The Red Eagle, I just want to have a long break first.

Whatever Wisit ends up doing is going to be awesome. He's a vivid illustrator and imaginative writer, and a comic book will be very cool.

It could even lead him back to film, but only if, as Wisit says, he can do it his own way, in his inimitable style.

It's a style that was in full flower in his 2000 debut, the colorful 1950s-set western Tears of the Black Tiger (Fah Talai Jone, ฟ้าทะลายโจร), but hasn't really been seen since his second feature, 2005's fantasy romantic comedy-satire Citizen Dog (Mah Nakorn, หมานคร, except for perhaps his short film Norasingh Avatar, his Sawasdee Bangkok segment, Sightseeing, or maybe his many commercials and music videos. Wisit's 2006 feature, The Unseeable (Pen Choo Kub Pee, เปนชู้กับผี) did bear some of the hallmarks of his nostalgic outlook, with shoutouts to 1930s pulp-novel artist Hem Vejakorn, but seemed muted compared to his first two features.

Wisit's move to distance himself from the film industry echoes that of Tony Jaa, who has taken vows as a Buddhist monk and turned his back on a movie business he obviously felt betrayed him after budgetary constraints and creative differences led to his abandoning the set during the making of Ong-Bak 2 and offering a comparatively lackluster swansong with Ong-Bak 3.

The news of Wisit's departure from the business is also dampener to the excitement that has been building over The Red Eagle, a project that was announced to great fanfare nearly three years ago.

With Thailand's current superstar actor Ananda Everingham stepping into the role of a masked vigilante crimefighter, first portrayed by the legendary 1960s leading man Mitr Chaibancha – who died playing the partRed Eagle studio Five Star Production obviously felt the movie was ripe for the hype.

But we shall see on October 7.

I have to admit, watching the English-subtitled trailer for The Red Eagle, I'm still pretty excited.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Snow White and no seven dwarves

Gross-out horror, comedy and even a bit of nudity combine for Golden A Entertainment's The Snow White (ตายทั้งกลม , Tai Tang Klom), in which two students undertake the secret dissection of a pregnant woman's corpse to get the dead infant for black-magic spells. But instead of gaining any powers, the students hunted by the vengeful ghost of the dead woman. Their only hope is a kind-hearted nurse who tries to stop the ghost.

The nurse is played by "Nannie" Pattaranan Deeratsamee (ภัทรนันท์ ดีรัศมี) from the pop group Girly Berry, making her movie debut. She follows in the footsteps of bandmates "Giftza" Piya Pongkulapa and Nymph star "Gybzy" Wanida Ternthanaporn in making the shift from the music business to film.

Sarawut Intaraprom (สราวุธ อินทรพรหม), who previously did the indie romantic comedy Boring Love, directs.

The trailer is at YouTube and is embedded below.

The Snow White is in Thai cinemas this week.

(Via, MovieSeer)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Review: Unreal Forest

  • Directed by Jakrawal Nilthamrong
  • Starring Chanoda Ngwira Frackson, Felix Kalima, Juan Watson Mututa
  • Video installation at Numthong Gallery, fourth floor, Bangkok Art and Culture Center, September 2 to 29, 2010
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

Commissioned to make a film in Africa as part of the International Film Festival Rotterdam's Forget Africa program, Jakrawal Nilthamrong headed to the tiny landlocked country of Zambia. There, he concocted Unreal Forest, which blends experimental documentary, magical realism and commentary on colonialism.

Having seen another Forget Africa film, Memories of a Burning Tree by Sherman Ong, Unreal Forest felt familiar as the opening shots depicted the film crew's arrival in Lusaka, with the camera taking in the sights and sounds of the dusty capital city. Lively music by street musicians accompanies the ride, and those sounds crop up again to add energy to the proceedings.

Jakrawal and his crew, including IFFR programmer Gertjan Zuilhof and director of photography "Go" Chatchai Chaiyont, then set about interviewing aspiring Zambian filmmakers, all self-taught since Zambia has no film school.

Three are then hired to make a movie, and their discussions about how to proceed with the filming, the logistics of the locations, props and cast and bringing it all in within the low budget.

At the heart of Unreal Forest is the film within the film of a shaman who arrives in a canoe at a village on the Zambizi River, where he's to heal a sick boy. He promises the boy's father he'll find a way to cure the boy, which involves covering him with white magic powder and taking him into the woods.

The scope of the small film is greatly increased by virtue of geography – with scenes of the breathtaking Victoria Falls of the Zambizi, which Zambia shares with neighboring Zimbabwe.

Subtext in the film, also included as wall text in the Unreal Forest video installation, explains that when God created the world, he gave each region an even share of good and bad things. Africa was "blessed with minerals, wildlife and a population of great physical strength but it cursed with the arrival of European colonization and its apartheid and slavery."

This theme is further explored with words from the diary of a Dutch trader in the Ayutthaya Kingdom and images from the ruins of the former Siamese capital city. The irony is not lost – it was a Dutch film festival that commissioned this project in the first place.

Although Unreal Forest has been shown theatrically in film festivals, Jakrawal has said it's intended to be part of a multi-platform video installation, which is how I saw it. Such a setting has its advantages of and disadvantages. The installation, with the video playing in an art gallery's black box, adds photos and text that reinforce the themes and allow for more reflection on the film's message. The trade off is that viewers intent on seeing the film will have to sit on a hard bench for 67 minutes and try to ignore the comings and goings of other visitors, but that is also part of the charm of an art installation versus the more controlled atmosphere of a cinema.

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Review: Baby Arabia

  • Directed by Panu Aree, Kaweenipon Ketprasit and Kong Rithdee
  • Starring Supachai Luanwong, Jameelah Boonmalerd, Umar Noraheem, Suriyah Madtorhead
  • Premiered on September 1, 2010 at the 14th Thai Short Film & Video Festival
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 5/5

"We just try to get the emotion of it."

Those are the words of Jameelah Boonmalerd, singer of the band Baby Arabia, which has entertained Thai-Muslim audiences around Bangkok and central Thailand for more than three decades.

The band covers Arab and Malay numbers, even though none of the members speak either language.

But the emotion is there. What's clear in the new documentary on the band is that, for the band, faith and music are closely intertwined. The band members believe in God and believe that the music they play is good.

Directed by Panu Aree, Kaweenipon "Salim" Ketprasit and Kong Rithdee, Baby Arabia premiered on September 1 as part of the Digital Forum program of the 14th Thai Short Film & Video Festival. It played to a capacity crowd, with many prominent filmmakers turning out to support the film.

The movie is also playing at the upcoming Vancouver International Film Festival.

It's the third effort by the trio of Thai-Muslim filmmakers who have made it their mission to tell the stories of moderate Muslims – stories that don't usually get told because it's the extremists, both Islamic and anti-Muslim, whose voices tend to be the loudest.

They previously did the short documentary In Between in 2006, profiling moderate Muslims in Bangkok, and The Convert, a 2008 feature about a Buddhist woman's conversion to Islam for marriage.

All were well-made and engrossing documentaries that sought to simply tell the truth without an agenda.

But with the raw power of music, Baby Arabia will likely carry the filmmakers' message to a wider audience.

The documentary follows the familiar pattern of other rockumentaries, starting off with a performance, showing the band traveling to their gigs – including a wedding that's up a small canal – and then profiles the key members of the bands in their daily lives.

Baby Arabia started up in the 1980s when there was a boom in Malay and Arab music in Thailand, sparked by Thai Muslims bringing back LPs from Mecca.

Accordionist Supachai "Geh Baby" Luanwong founded the band, which started out playing percussion-based Arab traditional music.

Guitarist Umar Noraheem was next to join. He sings the Arab lyrics and is known for his ability to yodel. His electric guitar adds a jangling Santana-like texture to the music. When he isn't playing music, Umar runs a fishing pond in suburban Bangkok.

The band has two female lead singers, the husky voiced Jameelah and Suriyah Madtorhead, who coaches the band's young back-up singer/dancers.

Jameelah tutors the Koran in Bangkok, and in one poignant scene, she demonstrates how she recites the verses – powerful and songlike – a demonstration of unshakable faith.

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Seeing a Letter to Uncle Boonmee in New York

I'm in New York City. It was a sudden trip and I didn't expect to be here, so far from Bangkok.

As a coincidence, A Letter to Uncle Boonmee, the short-film prequel to Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Cannes Palme d'Or-winning feature Uncle Who Can Recall His Past Lives is playing at the Museum of Modern Art in New York as part of MoMA's ContemporAsian film series.

It's playing with three other Asian shorts: Madam Butterfly by Tsai Ming Liang, Cry Me a River by Jia Zhang-ke and Lost in the Mountains by Hong Sang-soo.

I've seen Letter a couple times before and I thought it would be nice to catch it again. Each time I see the 17-minute film, I notice something new. This time, I had just come in out of the wind and impending rain from West 53rd Street. And in the movie, I noticed it was windy, cloudy and about to rain. Having seen Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, I can now relate better to the letter that Apichatpong has written to Lung Boonmee, and is having various men in the village of Nabua read it aloud. The village's haunted past of the anti-communist crackdown and residents having to flee into the woods seems more visceral. And of course, there's a monkey ghost and I understand that more.

Madame Butterfly is a solo act, both in front of and behind the lens. Tsai is holding the camera, following Pearly Chua around in a hectic and huge Kuala Lumpur bus station. She's trying to get a ticket back to her hometown but doesn't have enough money. She comes close to getting the ticket sellers to give her a disounted ticket, but she refuses their help and wanders off, allowing Tsai to further observe her despair. The short was produced as part of the Puccini Twenty project, but I'm not sure what exactly it has to do with the Puccini opera. However, I did think of the sing-song dialogue being like an aria, and the actress certainly fits the part of the sad diva, especially during the long final shot of her in bed, hugging her absent boyfriend's pillow and then pushing it away.

The last two, Jia's Cry Me a River and Hong's Lost in the Mountains were thematically similar, with three college friends visiting their professor.

But while Jia's was calm, friendly and full of wistful reflection by the three students feting their professor on his birthday, Hong's was dominated by over-the-top melodrama and drunkenness as a young writer visits her old professor and lover back in Jeonju. She also reunites with another friend and her old boyfriend, and, after a drunken night out sleeps with him too.

I'd actually seen Hong's before, at last year's Bangkok International Film Festival. It as part of the Vistors package of the Jeonju International Film Festival's Digital Short Films project. The MoMA audience seemed most entertained by this one.

The New York Times has a review of the shorts, which are playing until Thursday. See the Subway Cinema blog for showtimes.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Review: Namtan Daeng (Brown Sugar)

  • Directed by Panumat Deesatta, Zart Tancharoen, Kittiyaporn Klangsurin
  • Starring Odette Henriette Jacomin, Pitisak Yaowanin, Prakasit Bosuwan, Patsawipit Son-akkarapa, Nathakhun Anumatchimpalee, Chittkhon Songchan, Lakkana Wattanawongsiri, Warin Yarujnon
  • Released in Thai cinemas on August 26, 2010; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

Thai films have finally come of age. Unshackled from 80 years of censorship and freed under the latest interpretations of the year-old motion-picture ratings system, it's okay to show bare breasts, and maybe even a bit more.

Clumsily, like teenagers groping around for the first time, Namtan Daeng (น้ำตาลแดง, international English title: Brown Sugar) explores contemporary Thai sexual relations. Thai multiplex audiences can finally see something depicted on the big screen that they previously could only do in the privacy of their own homes, hotel rooms, cars, secluded nature spots, or perhaps watch on the "sex DVDs" openly sold by streetside vendors and notorious markets.

Only it's not as exciting as all that. Tediously paced and often quiet as a church mouse, the audience seemed fidgety and bored, even as the actress in one story went for broke and masturbated for 10 minutes. The guy sitting behind me was snoring loudly.

A collection of three short stories by three young independent directors, Namtam Daeng is produced by Ong-Bak director Prachya Pinkaew, who was among the industry figures helping to guide the new motion-picture ratings system. Prachya is joined in this venture by fellow Baa-Ram-Ewe producer Bandit Thongdee. The pair had previously directed segments of the 2008 romance omnibus 4 Romances, and now they have a chance to take things a bit further.

The movie starts with a 5-minute intro segment, starring Odette Henriette Jacomin and Pitisak Yaowanin. She's a woman in an unhappy marriage who's checked in alone at a beachside bungalow and seeks solace from the resort's handyman. This short segment is notable because it has the actress actually removing her top to put her breasts on full view. Unlike other movies in which actresses get body doubles and have the camera pan down so the boobs could belong to anybody, here it's clear the chest is attached to the shoulders that are attached to the neck that are attached to the head and face of the actress. She asks for brown sugar with her coffee, saying she prefers its more robust and natural taste and appearance to the usual refined sugar. In Thailand, brown sugar is coarser and totally unrefined compared to the West. It's called namtan daeng, or literally red sugar.

So with the movie's title explained, it begins in earnest with
director Panumat Deesatta's Sopeni Bon Tiang (โสบนเตียง, literally "prostitute on the bed") a story about an older gentleman (Prakasit Bosuwan) and his affair with a younger-looking woman (Patsawipit Son-akkarapa) who wears a snug-fitting, revealing university schoolgirl uniform. A family man with a Mercedes station wagon and pictures of his three young children hanging from the rearview, he meets her for a tryst that takes them to a lakeside picnic spot, dinner at an outdoor barbecue stand where she steams up the customers, dancing in a nightclub and finally a short-time motel. She has appropriate costume changes for each scene. The narratives at first capture the couple in post-coital conversation. They sound like what I'd imagine a Thai man and his mia noi (minor wife) would talk about. The sex acts are then unspooled in a heavy-metal accompanied flurry of the guy's goatee rubbing around on the woman's cleavage, his bare shoulders bobbing up and down and her face showing expressions of pleasure.

For me, this first segment worked most effectively, just for the twist at the end that makes the male fantasy even more complete.

Next is Zart Tancharoen's Raktongloon (รักต้องลุ้น) about teenage lovers (Nathakhun Anumatchimpalee and Chittkhon Songchan), playfully experimenting with sex while at home alone in the girl's house, sitting on the coach. Zart, who's previously worked under director Thunska Pansittivorakul, a filmmaker who uses no restraint when it comes to expression of sexual desires and exploration, makes some interesting choices in his segment. Just as things are on the verge, the illusion is broken. And even after the illusion is broken, later on when the girl's parents show up while the couple are in the bedroom, it's still pretty tense, but ultimately comical and absurd. This is also the segment that's most "indie" in terms experimentation, with blurred camera movements and jumbling around, as if the camera is being hidden.

Finally there's Kittiyaporn Klangsurin's Prattana (ปรารถนา, literally "desire"), which has a masseuse (Lakkana Wattanawongsiri) in a Khao San Road traditional (non-sexual) massage parlor, fantasizing about a musclebound, long-haired tattoo artist (Warin Yarujnon) who runs a studio in the same building.

The much-talked about 10-minute masturbation scene, which comes after the woman gets all hot and bothered during a massage session with the guy, is actually a letdown. Lakkana, who's said she just "went for it", remains fully clothed during the scene, which takes place in the toilet at the massage parlor. She sticks one hand down her trousers and uses the other to lift up her shirt and play with her breasts. Her bra remains on. Much sighing and heavy breathing ensue. She then goes to get a tattoo from her fantasy man. She wants it in her pelvic region, and so there's the other talked-about scene that involves the upper regions of her pubic hair being shaved. And then the needle starts in with its pain and vibration.

I suppose it's relevant at this point to note that the last segment is by the only female director on the Brown Sugar project.

In all, six short stories were produced for Brown Sugar. I am uncertain at this time about when the other three segments will be released.

The latest box office figures show Namtan Daeng has earned around 8.5 million baht, which is a rather disappointing figure.

But it's still a worthy effort in pushing the envelope of what's acceptable to be seen by appropriate audiences on Thailand's big screen.

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Review: Sing Lek Lek Thee Riak Wa … Ruk (First Love)

  • Directed by Putthiphong Promsakha na Sakon Nakhon and Wasin Pokpong
  • Starring Mario Maurer, Pimchanok Luevisetpaibool, Sudarat Butrprom
  • Released in Thai cinemas on August 12, 2010; rated G
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

I've seen the Thai summer sleeper hit First Love and am not sure what I saw. But for reasons I can't explain, I liked it.

Maybe it had some of the exuberance and energy of the John Hughes teenage romantic comedies of the 1980s, like Pretty in Pink or Sixteen Candles.

A coming-of-age story, Sing Lek Lek Thee Riak Wa … Ruk (สิ่งเล็กๆ ที่เรียกว่า...รัก, also Crazy Little Thing Called Love), is about a schoolgirl and her undying crush on the school's heartthrob jock, portrayed by Mario Maurer.

The girl, named Nam, played by Pimchanok Luevisetpaibool, is at first an ugly duckling nerd with glasses. Over one summer, she ditches the spectacles and has her skin lightened. She is cast as Snow White in the school play and lands a spot as the leggy drum majorette leading the marching band. She sets hearts aflutter, but not, it seems, the school's soccer star.

The movie, a production of the Workpoint TV studio and Sahamongkol Film International, is directed by Putthiphong Promsakha na Sakon Nakhon and Wasin Pokpong.

Production values are fine, with the setting of a provincial Thai tourist town captured lushly and lovingly (not sure where it's at, but it's someplace with a reservoir).

The story meanders and despite its energetic pace seems overly long. After all, it covers the girl's entire time in high school, breezing through year after year, with Nam's heart staying true to the clownish, narcissistic photography enthusiast, played by Mario.

I suppose what helped me invest in the story was the great supporting cast, especially the three young friends of Nam. These child actors are sort of a Greek chorus to the whole proceedings.

The main supporting player is the comic actress "Tukky" Sudarat Butrprom, who portrays the English teacher [which is hilarious for her enunciations]. She's also sponsor of the school's comedy players. She has a crush on the school's gym teacher and sports coach, and battles for his affections with a taller, fairer rival faculty member.

The Love of Siam star Mario, at 21 years old, is still youthful looking enough to play a teenage schoolboy. I've found him annoying in his recent commercial spots for Pepsi and other products, but he's okay here. A tortured, lonely artistic soul trapped in an handsome athlete's body, he actually manages to become a sympathetic character.

The movie's ending takes the story off the rails and seems like a huge stretch – a desperation move to wrap things up and give audiences the happy ending they demand.

But whatever. The move proved effective, making First Love the surprise hit of Thailand's summer movie season. Opening on the Queen's Birthday/Mother's Day holiday weekend of August 12-15, First Love was in third place behind the slapstick monastic comedy Luangphee Teng 3 and Toy Story 3, but rose to second place the following weekend. At last count, First Love had earned around $2.2 million (68 million baht), a tidy sum. Along with GTH's latest hit romance Guan Muen Ho, the success shows that Thai audiences currently prefer homegrown romance over just about anything else.

I'm not the film's intended audience and I was initially turned off by the movie, mainly because of the movie posters that don't seem to have anything to do with what actually happens in the film. But I was eventually guilted into seeing it, after word of mouth had spread and friends were asking me about it. And despite my reluctance, I'm glad I saw it.

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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Insects in the Backyard in Vancouver's Dragons & Tigers, plus Baby Arabia, Mundane History and Uncle Boonmee

Tanwarin Sukkhapisit's debut feature Insects in the Backyard is in the Dragons & Tigers competition at the Vancouver International Film Festival.

VIFF's Asian lineup also includes the previously announced Cannes Palme d'Or winner (and now Oscar submission) Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, as well as Anocha Suwichakornpong's Rotterdam Tiger Award-winner Mundane History and Baby Arabia, the brand-new musical documentary from Panu Aree, Kaweenipon Ketprasit and Kong Rithdee.

There's also a package of Apichatpong's shorts: the sound-system cleanser Anthem, the whirl around Nabua in A Letter to Uncle Boonmee and the Mekong funeral of Luminous People. There's also Anocha's Elvis mystery Graceland and Aditya Assarat's Phuket.

Tanwarin (ธัญญ์วาริน สุขพิสิษ), recently spotted in a dress like Peggy Olsen from Mad Men might wear, handing out the best-actor prize at the 14th Thai Short Film & Video Festival (she also did the fest's "egg" intro reel), has directed several short and medium-length films. They include In the Name of Sin, Phone Mood, the R.D. Pestonji winner I'm Fine Sa-bai-dee Ka, the Pestonji tribute Where's My Doll? and the Revenge water-tank segment of the Poj Arnon-produced horror anthology, Tai Hong (ตายโหง, Die a Violent Death, also known as Still).

Her feature Insects in the Backyard is among an eight-film competition field of first-time feature directors: Don't Be Afraid, Bi! by Phan Dang Di (Vietnam), End of Animal by Jo Sunghee (South Korea), Good Morning to the World!, by Hirohara Satoru (Japan), Icarus Under the Sun by Abe Saori and Takahashi Nazuki (Japan), Kimu; The Strange Dance by Park Donghyun (South Korea), Rumination by Xu Ruotao (China) and Sandcastle by Boo Junfeng (Singapore).

The Vancouver International Film Festival runs from September 30 to October 15.

(Via Film Business Asia)

Eternity premieres: Old romance; torrid, topical love story

The lavish historical romantic drama Eternity (Chuafah Din Salai, ชั่วฟ้าดินสลาย) had a gala VIP and press screening on Thursday night at the Paragon Cineplex.

The movie is based on a classic 1943 romance novella, and has in turn been made into several movies, the most famous of which is Forever Yours, made in 1955 by Tawee na Bangchang ("Khru Marut") and Ratana Pestonji.

The story of an affair between the nephew of a logging baron and his uncle's attractive young wife, it's iconic for its image of the adulterous lovers, who are ordered chained together for eternity by the cuckolded husband.

The new movie takes advantage of Thailand's relatively permissive new motion-picture ratings system, to sex things up, and the movie, opening next week, is already creating quite a buzz for its nudity and old-time, epic style of filmmaking.

Lekha Shankar hit the premiere at Paragon, and she sent this report.

Story and photos by Lekha Shankar

As expected, the press-screening of Sahamongkol Film International's Eternity at the Paragon Cineplex was packed to capacity.

And as expected, most of the questions addressed to the leading cast of the film, Ananda Everingham and "Ploy" Cherman Boonyasak related to the torrid sex scenes in the film.

They remained totally unfazed. Ananda, looked dapper and sophisticated in jacket and gelled hair – he was still wearing torn jeans, true to his style – while Ploy was tall and elegant in a burnished orange outfit with a big bow at the back. They twittered and whispered together, but handled the questions with charm and humor.

As for the legendary acting coach and director of the film, "Mom Noi" ML Bhandevanob Devakul, he was proud of the sensational love-sequences in the film.

"Sex is integral to any love story, which is why it’s prominent in my film too,” said the director about his resurrection of the 1943 Thai tale Chuafah Din Salai by writer Malai Choopini, which has the lovers romping nude in forest streams, kissing in the woods and making ardent love even when they are chained together.

Eternity, along with Sahamongkol's recent release of the erotica short-film omnibus, Brown Sugar, are certainly putting the new film ratings system to the test.

Mom Noi said he decided to remake the famous Thai tale, only because it was a magnificient love-story.

“What more do you need?” laughed the director, about a film where his lovers discuss love in its myriad forms, with almost Shakespearean-like fervour.

He did not think the idea of the lovers being chained together was out-dated. To him, it was more “symbolic than physical.”

And yes, he did think that both his acting students, Ananda and Ploy, had acquitted themselves very well in the film.

Having seen the film, stars are in fact pretty outstanding. They not only look stunning (to describe Ploy as looking picture-book perfect would be an under-statement), but emote and interact with intuition and intensity. In a heroine-dominated story, Ananda comes into his own at the end of the film and steals the thunder.

Also putting in impressive performances are Teerapong Leowrakwong as the husband.

Teerapong, a photographer by profession, said that he had done some action-oriented roles, which was why this Othello-like role was challenging.

"He’s a tough task-master," he says of Mom Noi, "but only he could have made such a film!"

Indeed, Eternity is totally the work of an auteur, with its grand production design, seeping atmospherics, sweeping cinematography, trenchant script and charismatic characters.

The writing is one of the highlights of the film, and Mom Noi uniquely lifts an old-world tale and transplants it in the present times, with its digs at politics, education, marriage, society and its over-riding theme of freedom.

The 1955 version of the story called Forever Yours directed by Tawee Na Bangchang, with cinematography by Ratana Pestonji, recently purchased from the Thai Film Foundation's shop at the Bangkok ARt and Culture Centre, was charming, but stilted and melodramatic.

This new version is a feast for the eye, senses and heart.

Yupadee, the heroine recites Khalil Gibran, quotes Ibsen and urges the hero Sangmong, to “think from the heart, not the brain."

Eternity is a film made from the heart, and will certainly appeal to anyone with heart.

And what does Ananda Everingham have to say about this much talked-about film? Was it more difficult than his much-hyped forthcomin superhero film Red Eagle?

Red Eagle was the toughest role in my career !” exclaimed the actor. "Eternity was totally different, and the highlight was working again with Mom Noi.”

(It was Mom Noi who "discovered" Ananda, directing the actor's 1997 breakthrough, Anda Kab Fahsai.)

As for director Aditya Assarat's indie drama Hi So, Ananda's third feature this year, Thailand’s top actor laughed.

"That was a cake-walk. I just had to play me.”

Vanquisher to take stab at U.K. DVD sales in October

Women wielding swords, waving guns, showing off cleavage and leaping around in wire-assisted stunts is what Vanquisher (สวย ซามูไร, Suay Samurai) has to offer.

And Showbox Media thinks that's something that action fans in the U.K. will want to watch. It's due out on Region 2 DVD on October 11.

Directed by Manop Udomdej, the action drama is about a Thai secret service agent codenamed Vanquisher (Sophita Sribanchean) who is left for dead after a top-secret mission goes wrong. But she survives and is determined to seek vengeance.

She gets help from another agent, played by "Nui" Kessarin Ektawatkul from Born to Fight and Dangerous Flowers. The two woman form an alliance to fight a female rogue CIA agent, played by Jacqueline Apithananont from Queens of Langkasuka and The Bodyguard 2. Saranyu Wongkrachang and Pete Thongchua also star.

Released last year, the film's production troubles included the cutting of scenes by actress "Amy" Chotiros Suriyawong, after she wore a scandalously revealing dress to present the Suphanahongsa Awards in 2007. Censors also ordered the removal of a politically sensitive scene invoving gunmen opening fire into a mosque.

(Thanks Logboy!)

Friday, September 10, 2010

Apichatpong-a-rama: Uncle Boonmee to Oscars, 'flop' in France, gala in London

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (ลุงบุญมีระลึก ชาติ, ) will be Thailand's submission for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2011.

That's the news according to the Thai government's Public Relations Department.

I think it's the best shot Thailand has had in a long time to finally have its first Oscar-nominated film, though it'll probably still be a long-shot to win.

Apichatpong, in France to promote the theatrical release of Boonmee, "is reportedly joyous about the selection", says the National News Bureau of Thailand.

The submission of Thai films to the Oscars is made by a committee from the Federation of National Film Associations of Thailand (FNFAT). This year the nine-member panel was chaired by Nakorn Weeraprawat and included prominent industry figure Prachya Pinkaew and actor Yodchai Meksuwan.

In past years, the films submitted have come from Thailand's major movie studios, with indie films not really considered.

Under the rules, the films must have played in a commercial theater run for at least seven days, a requirement that indie films,
which until recent years were mainly limited to film festivals, would have struggled to meet.

Hot after its Cannes win, Uncle Boonmee packed in audiences throughout June and July at Bangkok's plush SFX the Emporium cinema, and has had limited engagements at the SF chain's other cinemas, including those upcountry.

It was a surprise move by Apichatpong, Bioscope magazine and SF cinemas to organize the Uncle Boonmee screenings so quickly after Cannes. In past years, it would take several months or even years for Apichatpong's films to finally show in Thailand after their run of the festival circuit. His 2003 Un Certain Regard winner Blissfully Yours attracted relatively little buzz when it screened at the now-burned-down Siam Theatre. And his 2006 feature Syndromes and a Century didn't screen in Bangkok until two years after it was made, and only after it had been chopped to bits by overly sensitive censors.

It's also a remarkable move by FNFAT to submit Uncle Boonmee, and I think it's the right choice. Had the Palme d'Or winner not been submitted, Thailand would have looked pretty stupid. This is a no-brainer chance for Thailand to look smart.

Boonmee's submission represents the growing acceptance by Thai film industry heavyweights and cultural authorities of the indie filmmakers.

In 2009, the FNFAT gave five of its Subhanahongsa Awards – the Thai equivalent of the Oscar – to indie director Aditya Assarat's Wonderful Town, after that quiet romantic drama had played in a one-month run that was similar to Uncle Boonmee's.

Wonderful Town was screened as part of the Director's Screen Project initiated in 2008 by indie distribution and production company Extra Virgin, with SF cinemas.

This year, the Director's Screen Project has shown Anocha Suwichakornpong's Mundane History, which recently wrapped up a one-month run to make way for a four-week screening of Uruphong Raksasad's Agrarian Utopia. Both have done well on the festival circuit and along with Boonmee could well be due for more accolades next year when FNFAT hands out its Subhanahongsa Awards.

However, the success of Uncle Boonmee at home makes it easy to forget how polarizing Apichatpong's films can be.

The toast of the Cannes Film Festival opened in French cinemas a week ago, and the largely parochial Parisian critics roundly panned Oncle Boonmee, celui qui se souvient de ses vies antérieure.

Today, Agence France-Presse issued a report that Boonmee had "flopped" at the box office, saying it "failed to make it into the top 10 most-seen films, making it the worst showing for a Cannes winner in the past decade", and citing Le Film Francais as the source.

It's a grossly misleading report, which lumps little Uncle Boonmee in with Hollywood heavyweights like Salt, Piranha 3D and Inception and fails to take into account the number of screens the movies are playing on.

Taking a look at Allocine's September 1 box-office chart, Uncle Boonmee is at No. 15. It had 45,115 admissions and was showing on 84 screens.

Crunching those numbers, Boonmee had 537 viewers per screen, compared to 477 pairs of eyeballs per screen for the No. 3 Inception, which was showing in 545 places and had 202,719 admissions.

I'm not going to wear out my number pad going through all the entries, but according to my rough calculations, Uncle Boonmee was in third place behind Angelina Jolie's Salt and the wonderfully bloody Piranha 3D in terms of per-capita attendance.

As much flack as Boonmee is getting from the French press, the film is still being celebrated elsewhere.

It's at the Toronto International Film Festival this week, playing in the Masters program with Apichatpong among the festival's Mavericks, giving master classes.

And, in revealing its line-up, the London Film Festival has Boonmee among its gala premieres and special screenings, and among a rich line-up of Asian films.

The Guardian, which had earlier compiled the negative French press reviews, lists Uncle Boonmee among its picks for the London fest, which runs from October 13 to 28.

(Big thanks to Jason Gray, Wildgrounds, Lorna Tee and MaewNam for contributing to this report.)